Side A – Nia
The Calling began with a single drum beat that shook the mountain and stilled the multitude who had congregated in the volcano’s caldera. Even the lava went still as the resounding boom called all attention to the drummers who were arrayed beneath the statues of the gods.
Trapped at her drum, Nia felt her breath catch inside her. She’d felt the power of the music before but it still crashed over her with an irresistible force. She’d called it magic, but that did a disservice to the immensity of sound that thundered around her.
Elven magic came from the world and worked within it. Nia had seen her mother coax a herb to offer medicinal properties that far exceeded what could have been found in an entire field worth of plants. She’d seen her sister use a blade of woven grass to slice through the inch thick steel hide of a Boring Beast. Those were extensions of how the world was supposed to work though. They made sense to Nia on a fundamental level. As the Calling roared into full volume, she grasped her hands into fists and tried to make sense of it before it blew her mind to pieces again.
“How long is this going to be?” she silently asked Yasgrid, who was standing before her and looking as worried as Nia felt.
“The main ceremony lasts for an hour,” Yasgrid said. “You’ll only play for part of that though. There’s a bit around three quarters through the performance where they bring in new players. The gods should be mostly tamed by then, so they have the fledgling drummers play a piece that speaks of new beginnings. First you’ll play with just the other people here, the ones who are trying out, then the experienced drummers will join in and the whole assemblage will finish the piece to blow away the ash, call back the sun, and return everything to normal.”
“So there’s a safety net then?” Nia asked, fighting to keep the tremble out of her hands.
“Yes,” Yasgrid said. “People have messed this up before, but we’ve never allowed a full eruption to happen. The senior drummers can handle finishing it even if you botch something.”
“I thought the volcano would smite anyone who screwed up?” Nia asked.
“Don’t focus on that,” Yasgrid said. “You’re doing ok now. You’ll do ok once it’s time to play for real.”
“I want to do more than Ok,” Nia said, breathing a snort of fiery air from her nostrils.
“Do what you can,” Yasgrid said. “Don’t worry about getting me into the Shatter Band. I hadn’t guessed how hard this would be for someone to experience the first time. I shouldn’t have let you volunteer for this at all.”
“I’ll be fine,” Nia said. “Maybe this wasn’t the most brilliant choice I’ve ever made, but it’s my choice now. I just needed to know that I wasn’t going to doom your people if I made a mistake.”
Her hands trembled less as she spoke, and a fire flickered in her eyes that was all her own.
Side B – Yasgrid
Yasgrid wished she could feel the familiar heat of the gods bathing her but, even without that, Nia’s defiance warmed the air between them.
“Can you distance yourself from the music at all?” Yasgrid asked. There were children in the stands bellowing along with the song the Shatter Band was crafting, so carried away by the rhythms that they couldn’t contain themselves. Nia looked like she wanted to join them and was only holding out in the silence by sheer force of will.
“If they played worse it would be easier,” Nia said. She wasn’t moving her lips, and instead spoke only with her mind in an effort to guard them both from discovery. Despite that, Yasgrid was pretty sure she could hear Nia’s teeth grinding together.
“I’m sorry, I wish we could switch back,” Yasgrid said. “I wish I had any idea what caused this to happen in the first place.”
“Could it be your gods?” Nia asked. “They seemed to have fun tormenting me. Maybe they did it for a laugh?”
“They don’t have that kind of power,” Yasgrid said. “This doesn’t come from them. They’re too closed off from the world, lost in their own little bubbles. Are there any Elven rituals that allow for minds to transfer between hosts?”
“Maybe, but none that I know,” Nia said. “And I don’t think they would work between strangers, or over this kind of distance, or without a serious connection, or unwillingly. Our magic doesn’t work like that.”
“It’s a shame we’re not more similar,” Yasgrid said. “This would be a lot easier if you were a Stoneling.”
Nia looked up at that, gazing into Yasgrid’s eyes for the first time in several minutes. Yasgrid was about to apologize but Nia cut her off.
“Maybe that’s what I need,” she said. “Come over here.”
She gestured to the seat beside her. There was enough barely enough room for Yasgrid to fit, but she tried anyways.
“Give me your hand,” Nia said.
When they touched it, Yasgrid’s breath hitched for a second. All of her senses came into sharp focus, not just her vision. She could feel the lava’s heat, she could smell the ritual herbs that were burning in the volcano’s fire, and Nia’s hands were so very warm.
“Tell me about being a Stoneling,” Nia said. “Tell me about being you.”
“What do you want to know?” Yasgrid asked, at a loss for where to begin.
“Tell me about drumming,” Nia said. “Not how to do it, but what it means to you. Do you like it? When was the first time you played? What was your worst performance?”
Yasgrid tried to collect herself. There was time before the Calling reached the part of the ceremony where Nia would have to perform, so Yasgrid took a breath, gathered her thoughts and began.
“The first time I remember playing was when I was three. I wasn’t supposed to even touch a drum but I’d heard my mother playing so often and I just wanted to see what it was like.”
One after another, memories came tumbling out as she painted a picture of the life she’d led with the drums, hoping she could be eloquent enough in the little time they had to work with to give Nia the insight she needed to understand the focal point of Yasgrid’s life up until this morning.